co Are Microformats The New Meta Data? |

Last Thursday, I wrote a blog post titled “Where Does Your Google Snippet Come From?”

To summarize, I mentioned three distinct places where Google takes your search page snippet from:

  1. Meta Description
  2. ODP listing
  3. On-page content

Alex Hawkinson asked this question on Twitter:

Isn’t it all about micro-data vs. the things that you mention?

First, I’d like to say great question, Alex. Thanks for asking it.

Let’s start by defining “micro-data.” This is what Google calls microformats, or rich snippets. Alex himself wrote a short primer on this topic here.

In short, micro-data is on-page content that is structured for the purpose of alerting the search engines that particular text or other content on a page is more search-worthy than the rest of the content. It’s a way that you as a website owner can attempt to influence the search engine’s algorithm in obtaining information to be included in the search page snippet.

Taking that definition, I’ll now answer Alex’s question with these three observations:

  1. Microformats, or micro-data, aka rich snippets, are a part of on-page content and as such fall into the third category from which Google takes information for your search page snippet. In other words, it isn’t “all about micro-data,” but it does include micro-data.
  2. Currently, most small business websites are not using microformats, and of those that are, I’d say a small percentage are using them effectively. Therefore, they are not as influential as they might be with regard to local search algorithms.
  3. And thirdly, there is no guarantee that using microformats will result in your preferred search page snippet being published. The search engines have the final say.

Consider this, taken directly from Google’s own website concerning rich snippets:

If I mark up my pages, does that guarantee I’ll get Rich Snippets?

No. We will be rolling this out gradually, and as always we will use our own algorithms and policies to determine relevant snippets for users’ queries. We will use structured data when we are able to determine that it helps users find answers sooner. And because you’re providing the data on your pages, you should anticipate that other websites and other tools (browsers, phones) might use this data as well.

Consider that Google rolled out its microformats support on May 12, 2009 (the date of the above published material). At that time, the only microformats Google supported were reviews and people. Now, the search engine has expanded its support to include products, businesses and organizations, recipes, events, and videos. Google also has a rich snippets testing tool so you can be sure that your microformats are working properly.

I highly encourage small businesses to use microformats. I believe they will only get better and the future certainly belongs to this form of on-page content. But the present still belongs to traditional modes of content. If you start using microformats today, you’ll be ahead of your competition. That doesn’t mean you should abandon current on-page techniques – they can be used together, the new and the old. And you just may influence your search page snippets for the better. But realize that rich snippets, or microformats, or whatever you choose to call them, are indeed a part of your on-page content.